How to save money on printing

As every printer owner knows, the ongoing costs of operating your printer are mainly due to one very expensive necessity – printing ink. With individual ink cartridges often priced between 30 and 50 dollars, ink can cost more per unit volume than champagne or perfume – making it an almost ludicrous expense for printing in significant volumes.

Unfortunately, selling expensive ink is an integral part of most manufacturers’ business models, and pricing is unlikely to decrease any time soon. So, short of staging a protest about ink prices, what are some everyday ways to reduce your printing costs? We’ve compiled some tips to hopefully make headaches about printing expenses a thing of the past.

Print less!

Just like cutting back on buying junk food will reduce your expenses and your waistline, reducing the amount of printing you do is of course the easiest way to save ink and reduce costs. Instead of printing a document to show to someone or to take to a meeting, consider emailing it to them instead, or simply show them on a laptop or a projector. Photos can also be shared quickly with friends or family via email, a USB stick or any number of cloud sharing services, compared to the slow and ink-draining process of printing them out individually. When you do need to print, try to avoid printing in colour as much as possible, as colour cartridges are usually more expensive. Printing double-sided pages and even printing more than one page per side are good ways to save paper as well.

Which printer should you use?

Businessman working with printerThere are two main types of commercial printers: inkjet and laser models. Inkjet models, as their name suggests, use cartridges of liquid ink that are applied directly to the paper when printing, whereas laser printers use toner (powdered ink). In the laser printing process, a laser projects the image to be printed onto an electrically charged roller. After this, the similarly charge toner is sprayed onto the roller and electrostatically sticks to the areas which the laser has marked out; the roller then prints the image onto the paper.

Laser printers come in colour or monochrome-only varieties; they tend to be more expensive than comparable inkjet models due to their more complicated printing process, but the amount of toner they use per page is much lower than the equivalent amount of ink due to the precision of laser printing. This means that if you buy a laser printer, the more pages you print, the more you’ll save, as the cost per page is lower.

If you do lots of monochrome printing, then buying a laser printer is a no-brainer. Colour printing, however, is a different story. Colour laser printers need to spray each colour onto the printing roller separately, and there can sometimes be blurring or colour bleeding at the boundaries of colours due to slight misalignments when changing between colour cartridges. This more complex process is also more expensive than a monochrome laser printer. If you print a lot of photographs or high quality images, then an inkjet printer is the way to go as they can print colours more cheaply and precisely.

Refill and recycle your cartridges

This is a big cost-saving measure: rather than buying new cartridges from the manufacturer of your printer (which is usually eye-wateringly expensive), you can instead get your cartridges refilled at a printing shop for a fraction of the cost. You can also buy second-hand, refilled printer cartridges for a similarly lower price, as well as selling your own used cartridges to vendors. Keep in mind however, that ink from third-party sources may not print as well as ink from the original manufacturer.

Change fonts

Believe it or not, some fonts that have thinner letters and styles that are easier to read can actually save you money by using less ink. An oft-quoted study done by a US middle school student found that the US federal government could save $136 million dollars per year by changing to Garamond, a thinner, less ink-intensive font. This represented savings of nearly 30% of the government’s annual printing costs, and changing to Times New Roman would alternatively save 8%. If you or your organisation does a large amount of printing, then changing the font you use could potentially save a considerable amount of money.

And failing that…

The journal Nature Communications published an article in January 2014 describing a breakthrough that could revolutionise how we print and write: rewriteable paper. Chinese researchers treated sheets of paper with an invisible hydrochromic dye that reacts and becomes coloured upon contact with water. This dye eventually loses its colour after around 22 hours, and even faster if heat is applied – perfect for the roughly 40% of office documents which are discarded after a single reading, stated one the researchers.

The paper can be rewritten dozens of times with no significant loss of clarity, and can be printed on existing inkjet printers using water instead of ink. The cost of dying only adds roughly 5% to the paper’s cost; after 50 rewrites, the saving becomes equivalent to roughly 1% of the cost of printing 50 pages on an inkjet printer – a massive difference! Such technology is still in its infancy, but this could mean huge reductions in the amount of paper and ink we manufacture and use – and more savings for you when printing!

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